March 13, 2015
Incredible what the flue can do to you! I basically spent almost 4 weeks at home with the kids being sick one after the other, followed by two days of school holidays, and then I gave in to the flue myself!
But the forced time-out with the kids was not bad as I had to slow down as well on my activities and after all I found it quite relaxing. So we picked up our normal activities in the last week of February with a highlight at the end of the week: Leonard finally made it to be “Star of the Week” in kindergarten – he was the last one in his class! But he has come a long way from “directeur caca” only one year ago in Basel.
And then we went on a skiing weekend for my birthday to the Gunma prefecture which is known for its powder snow and it’s onsens (natural hot spring baths). And we had it all! The lodge we stayed in was very basic but thanks to the hosts quite charming and we enjoyed our time. But I really wonder why you would not install a central heating when your house is in an area where you have about 6 metres of snow for about half the year? Little gas / electric heaters in each room worked ok, but from an energy efficiency perspective this does not make sense at all. Also double-glazed windows seem to be unknown in this part of the otherwise so progress driven Japan.
The ski resort was as we experienced before: efficiently organised, good food for little money, literally no waiting times at the lifts and many very fashionable dressed skiers and snowboarders. Most of them beginners who would sit on the slopes more than they would be on their boards. And in this country where safety measures can sometimes drive you mad (no chewing gum in the very slow roundabout at Legoland; a person who tells you not to step into the hole at every construction site), people do not tend to wear ski helmets (neither do they wear bike helmets). It always amazes me how opposing the Japanese behaviour can be when it comes to safety.
As the resort is not very much frequented by non-Japanese tourists, the ski schools were only in Japanese and the kids refused to go. As I was on my own the first morning I just decided to take them all up the hill and ski with them. For Lilo this was an easy slope and she got quickly out of sight. So I went down with the boys who did an excellent job. It was really fun skiing with them and when Mark came at lunch time, we had done many runs and they were so proud to show him how good they are.
The next day weather turned bad so we went to what is supposed to be the world’s largest outdoor onsen: Takaragawa Onsen. Believe me, it is absolutely great to soak in hot water surrounded by heaps of snow! But yet again there are some strange things to observe. Generally you go to the onsen naked. There are mixed ones and some for women only. At the entrance men get a “modesty towel” a towel the size of an European guest towel which is too small to wrap around your hips, so you need to hold it with both hands (or with one) and your backside remains uncovered. Women get a larger towel which they are supposed to wrap around their body. It is long enough to cover you from your armpits to your upper thigh. But of course you have to hold on to this with one hand all the time and of course it opens up in the water. So here is my question: If you have to cover your private parts anyway, why not wear a swimsuit? Only in the women’s area, women walk and bathe naked. The children did not need to cover themselves. And ours got water pistols at the entrance which the Japanese kids did not get which then caused some jealousy but also some irritated looks from the other guests. They probably thought that these bloody gaijins had no sense for the quiet pleasures of an onsen visit and brought water pistols for their kids!
Despite the fact that Leonard constantly complains about going to the Aikido lessons, all three did a wonderful job yesterday at parent watching day (usually parents are not allowed inside the hall). They learn so quickly and it is amazing to see Lilo moving so smoothly when bringing her teacher down to the mat. I put some videos of the kids at the end of this post.
Last but not least I sticked to my private promise to get the preparations for my own business started before my birthday. I am now in full swing and my days are clearly structured to make the best use of the time between drop-off and pick-up of the kids. Gone are the days where I could just go for a coffee with a friend or explore the city. Now serious work needs to be done as everything needs to be in place by end of June, before we go to Europe for the holidays. You will soon learn more about my future endeavours. Definitely something I look forward to!
Today’s fun fact:
There is not a lot of space in Tokyo so everything needs to be planned carefully. See the gas station? Hoses are suspended so petrol pumps do not take any space and cars can easily manoeuvre in and out. Notice the cleanliness of the place? That’s how it is here. And see the man bowing? He is just seeing his last customer off. Most gas stations offer car cleaning. It goes without saying that cars are cleaned by hand and that they will return a spotless super shiny car to you with not a single water mark on it. I have never seen anything like it before.